By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2012
As results from the referenda on graduate student secession from the Central Student Government roll in, supporters and detractors of the issue continue to argue their respective cases.
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Last month, 9.5 percent of Rackham students voted in the Rackham Student Government elections with 69 percent of voters supporting secession. The Law School Student Senate held its elections last week with mixed results for secession. LSSS election director Joe Gallagher said though turnout in the school of only 1,165 students was 48 percent, the margin of students supporting secession was narrower than the RSG election, with 64 percent, or 354 voters, in favor and 36 percent, or 203 voters, against.
Standing on opposing sides of the secession argument, Rackham student Michael Benson, RSG president, and Public Policy graduate student Zeid El-Kilani, the chair of the CSG Graduate Student Affairs Commission disagree on the central reasoning for secession.
“It's an issue that's completely about money,” El-Kilani said. “And if anyone says 'well no it's about representing these interests more,' no it has to do with Rackham — they do great things, they want to have more money to do great things.”
Benson said he wholeheartedly rejects that claim.
“What we’re looking to do is not a financial thing at all — there’s a financial component,” Benson said. “We’re looking to increase graduate student … voice on campus and campus matters.”
Despite the disagreement, the two parties agree on one thing — they want to increase funding for school and college student governments.
“We like what (school specific student governments) do, they do great things in representing the students of their home school,” he said. “They're justified in being angry that their fee has been stagnant.”
El-Kilani said he plans to reach out to each student government and ask them if they are interested in raising the student fee and to see if raising student fee is better than secession, an avenue he plans to pursue if he gets the support of students and their respective student governments.
However, El-Kilani said he can’t make any promises about raising the student fee.
CSG, under its former name of the Michigan Student Assembly, passed a resolution in 2010 to increase funding for school and college governments, but the University administration rejected the proposal, El-Kilani said.
CSG collects $7.19 from students with $1 of the fee going to the childcare fund. Each student also pays $1.50 to his or her respective school’s student government.
El-Kilani added a proposal to raise the student fee by any amount could easily be rejected by the University’s Board of Regents — especially considering that other groups, such as Building a Better Michigan, that are interested in increasing the student fee.
El-Kilani said he wouldn’t support reappropriating CSG money to individual student governments.
“I think the core issue is money,” He said. “That's clearly what it's all about — to do more of the things they do, more of the great things that they do. Obviously CSG likes having the money to help students as well in a more centralized manner. So how do you balance that out?”
Though Benson said additional funding would be nice, he said it wouldn’t address the need for a strong, unified voice for graduate students and said “throwing a dollar at us” won’t keep RSG from pursuing secession.
“I don’t feel comfortable saying, ‘We’ll trade; if you give us a dollar, we’ll stop doing what we’re doing,’” he said. “The key factor is the representation, the voice on campus.”
He added that in the preliminary plan developed by RSG, the total student fee for graduate students would actually decrease from $8.69 to a flat $8.
Benson emphasized the vast differences between the graduate student experience and undergraduate experience to explain the importance of separate representation. He said the age gap, as well as the increased likelihood of graduate students having children, are just two ways the groups differ.
Benson also noted that CSG spent a significant amount of time on Medical Amnesty, an issue graduate students have virtually no interest in, Benson said.
Nevertheless, Benson said he would like to see open communication and collaboration between RSG and CSG.
While discussion over secession has been heating up over the past few months, the idea itself isn’t new — graduate students first attempted secession 38 years ago.
In 1974 graduate student secession was considered and again in 1997 and in both cases constitutions for the all-graduate student governments were drafted.
A 1997 letter from RSG executive board members to the Vice President for Student Affairs cited overwhelming support of student voters from the Law School, the Medical School, the Rackham Graduate School and the School of Social Work.
“In Referenda (sic) conducted by each student government in their respective schools, an average of 95% of graduate student voters supported the proposed change,” the co-presidents of RSG wrote.
Though it’s unclear how many students voted, secession failed despite the high percentage of support, though Benson said the results the results of the Rackham vote important.
“Is 69 percent of the 10 percent meaningful? Yes,” Benson said, adding that “one in 10 students in the graduate school voted — that’s pretty pathetic.”
“It's always going to be a slightly skewed sample,” he said. “People who are voting in RSG elections tend to be people who have friends running for RSG or particularly are interested in RSG.”